DeCock: Miami center Johnson slims down for senior year

ldecock@newsobserver.comNovember 21, 2012 

2010-11 Miami Hurricanes Men's Basketball Photo Day

Reggie Johnson

JC RIDLEY — ©JC Ridley/Miami Hurricanes

This summer, as a group, Miami’s basketball players decided to stay in Coral Gables and train together. For Reggie Johnson, the Hurricanes’ gargantuan center, that meant missing out on the usual offseason pick-up games in his hometown of Winston-Salem, where everyone from Chris Paul to Wake Forest’s players battle for Triad bragging rights.

So when Wake Forest guard C.J. Harris, another Winston-Salem native, saw Johnson over the summer during a quick visit home, he was as shocked as anyone at how little of him was left – a mere 290 pounds, down from 310 last season and 330 two years ago. (Officially, he’s listed at 6-foot-10, 292 pounds.)

“He’s been working hard. You can tell,” Harris said. “When he’s home, we play pick-up all the time. You can tell he’s getting more mobile. He’s just improved every year.”

It hasn’t been easy for Johnson, whose bulk has made him one of the ACC’s best rebounders over the past three years. When he goes out with his teammates, he has learned to order grilled chicken or salads, water instead of lemonade.

“You have to be dedicated,” Johnson said. “You rely on teammates a lot. Sometimes after games, we go to Friday’s, and these guys are eating cheeseburgers and stuff. It’s about discipline. It boils down to that. I’m a disciplined guy.”

He’s had a role model in his quest to slim down. Former Miami coach Frank Haith recruited 380-pound Dexter Pittman as an assistant coach at Texas, and he made the introduction between Johnson and Pittman, whose hard work to lose 100 pounds over the course of his college career landed him in the NBA, and fortuitously enough, with the Miami Heat.

Johnson said the two have become so close since meeting during Johnson’s sophomore year that he now hangs out at Pittman’s house even when he’s on the road with the Heat.

“He’s at where I want to be at, so why not listen to him?” Johnson said.

But it didn’t take his relationship with Pittman for Johnson to realize it was imperative he lose weight. Even the progress he has made won’t be enough for NBA scouts, who will want to see him closer to 280, and there’s no telling whether the extra baggage contributed to the knee injury that forced him to miss the first nine games of last season. (He missed another game later in the year because of an eligibility issue with the NCAA.)

Now, he can get up and down the court for all of Miami’s two-hour offseason workouts, and Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga said the leaner, swifter Johnson has met his practice standard to have a green light from 3-point range – make 50 3-pointers in five minutes on a regular basis. Johnson was regularly in the 40s last season, but he’s been in the 50s in practice this year.

The question is whether the new-look Johnson will improve upon last year’s 10.0 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, which were actually a decrease from his sophomore-year numbers (11.9 points, 9.6 rebounds) despite playing more minutes. In two games this season – he missed Miami’s last game, a win over Jacksonville, with a bruised tailbone – he is averaging 14.0 points and 10.5 rebounds.

“We don’t say anything to him, because we know he has to do what he has to do,” Miami guard Durand Scott said. “This year is important to him. He’s a senior, and he wants to go out the right way. You have to sacrifice. He’s been doing real well with it, obviously, you can see how he’s toned down. Everything he couldn’t do last year because of his injury, he’s doing this year.”

It’s a big season for Miami (2-1), with the Hurricanes picked to finish fifth in the ACC and already upset losers at Florida Gulf Coast but loaded with returning starters and talent. About all they’re missing from last season is the few extra pounds Johnson is no longer carrying.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, Twitter: @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947

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